ST. GEORGE, Utah – A group of Dixie State University students are pushing forward with an effort to get administrators to allow a Greek sorority on campus. Now they have the backing of civil rights advocates.
Administrators denied the request by DSU senior Indigo Klabanoff earlier this year. She approached them wanting to create Phi Beta Pi, but says she was quickly shot down.
“The campus is a little bit opposed to the idea of even a club with Greek letters,” says Klabanoff. “They don’t want to connotate a party school image.”
Since then, Klabanoff has recruited the help of the civil rights group Foundation for Individual Rights in Higher Education (FIRE). Director of Individual Rights Defense Program Peter Bonilla says its something they see happening across the country.
“Compared to even a few years ago, fraternities and sororities are less popular with their college administrations,” says Bonilla. “Because fraternities and sororities at other colleges are known to do [party], we’re not going to let you form and give you the chance to do it yourself.”
Dixie State administrators defended that decision in the following statement:
“The judgment of both the DSU administration and Trustees is that more students would be repelled, rather than attracted, by the ‘partying’ stereotype typically associated with the Greek system, and that is not a culture we want to encourage on our campus.”
But campus spokesperson Steve Johnson says the decision goes beyond that. He says setting up a Greek system on campus would take resources the university is not set up for. DSU only official obtained university status during this year’s legislative session, and adding measures to accommodate and regulate a Greek system are still out of reach.
But Bonilla says the use of Greek letters in a club name shouldn’t be about academics, it’s about expression.
“It’s a simple first amendment matter at bottom,” says Bonilla. “Student groups have a right to identify themselves the way they want themselves to be identified.”
There have been lawsuits against universities for discrimination based on association, but Bonilla says they hope it doesn’t get that far. Neither does Klabanoff, she hopes administrators will see that just because a club uses a different alphabet for it’s name, they’re not all about lawlessness.
“It’s a public institution, a public university, that gets state funding, federal funding, and they have no reason to ban the use of Greek letters, in any club name,” says Klabanoff.
Phi Beta Pi still meets. The sorority has 18 members, but because they’re not recognized by the school, they’re charged for the use of campus facilities.